The young nurse guided Alex Sage to a small maroon padded chair. She tried to give his motley tangle of wavy brown hair some order and coax the long locks to cover the two by three-inch shaved section. After ten seconds of failing, she gave up, and then returned to her task of calibrating her light slate with the gigantic medical hardware across the room.
20-year-old Alex sat with no outward signs of nervousness, face somewhat slack. He didn’t mind the strong alcohol smell of the room, the bright lights, or even the cracked vinyl of the chair. As he shifted, his paper gown caught and etched a large tear across the left cheek of his awkward garment.
Instead of focusing on any of those things, he just was. He fixed his eyes on a medical chart outlining behavioral signs of early-onset dementia, reading the fine text easily from across the room but not processing it.
The nurse continued her task, not even looking up as the white medical hardware that made up most of the room began to hum. A series of panels illuminated as the start-up sequence continued.
Somewhere along the floor, a circulation fan started blowing. The force of the air caused Alex’s paper gown to billow softly in the breeze and lift at his crotch.
The movement caused the nurse to glance up. Seeing that Alex was unfazed, she almost returned to her work, but something itched at the back of her mind. She blushed when she mentally calculated his orientation to the mirrored observation room.
“You ok, Alex? You’re handsome and all, but no one brought dollar bills. You might want to stop giving the crowd a show,” the nurse suggested with a smirk.
Alex’s gaze tracked the nurse’s blue eyes for a moment, then slid off. His dark eyes didn’t show any sign of comprehending her words. Her mirthful smile evaporated as she took in the lack of response. Every now and then, she swore there was a glimmer of something in his eyes, but today he’d been completely disconnected.
Sighing to herself, she reached in a drawer for an old-fashioned clipboard and dropped it on his lap for modesty’s sake. Her lips grew tight, knowing he had a significant audience today. She did her best to maintain a professional demeanor when she faced the observation room, shrugged, and got back to her tasks.
After about five minutes, a technician walked into the room slate in hand. He held it up and made a flicking motion towards the nurse’s slate. The flexible glass display in her hand prompted to accept another treatment authorization form. She brushed a length of her short red hair behind her ear and began filling out Alex’s name and date of birth. She added in his weight at 170 pounds, and height at six feet. As she’d been instructed, where it asked her to fill in the next of kin, she put in “n/a.” Under emergency contacts, she filled out his lawyer’s information.
She pressed and held her thumb at the bottom of the document, creating a digital signature. As soon as it flashed into place, she flipped the form back to the tech. The man scurried out of the room with a curt nod.
With that, the nurse pressed a button on the side of the machine and a section raised, revealing a hollow tube with a bed inside. She tapped another button, and the bed extended into the room. Turning to the room’s only other occupant, she thought over her lines carefully, knelt in front of him, and made eye contact with her patient.
“Alex Sage, this isn’t going to hurt, it’s just a scan to see if the implant operation was successful,” she explained. “Alex is going to stand up, walk slowly to the bed, and lie down with his arms at his side and refrain from moving until otherwise told. Alex is going to continue breathing as normal. He is going to begin this process now.”
Immediately, Alex stood up, locked eyes on the bed and began to follow her orders with unerring precision. The nurse gave her head a shake at how weird her job had become since being assigned to him as a full-time caregiver. His injury was unique in ways that she probably understood far better than his doctors at this point. On the upside, he was the most compliant patient she’d ever encountered.
His compliance, however, had its challenges. Thankfully, his sponsor hadn’t shied away from ensuring he had the right type of care. His condition required his caregivers to think of every possible issue on his behalf before it became a problem. He was in the common but tricky middle ground where they couldn’t dismiss him as hopeless, but nor could they ever leave him alone.
Even after months, she couldn’t help but find his mind unnerving to a degree she couldn’t put into words. If pressed, she’d describe him as being a robot, but not a very good one. Still, she was thankful that she hadn’t been contracted to care for someone violent or who played in their own excrement. There never seemed to be a shortage of those in the mental wards, and even one was too many.
On the other side of the observation window was an odd collection of scientists, medical doctors, Alex’s assigned lawyer, and representatives from his sponsor’s technology company. They huddled around the room’s displays, waiting for the scans and initialization process to begin. Each group had clustered together with their peers except for the lawyer, who was tagging along with the tech guys, although not interacting with them.
Family members were notably absent, and no one in the cadre involved found any issue with this. As the countdown grew closer, silence settled over the crowd. Finally, in a breach of the self-imposed segregation, one of the medical doctors squared off to the Apollo technicians.
“You’re certain there is nothing magnetic in the implant? I know we’ve gone over this, but that machine will cause certain metals to heat up as well as be pulled around. Hard,” he said the last part with as much emphasis as he could.
“Yeah Doc, we got it. There’s no iron, cobalt, or nickel anywhere in it. We got your notes that it’d turn his brain into steaming mush.”
The doctor nodded for a moment, then paused. “Just so we’re clear here, other materials will react with that machine.”
One of the other engineering guys assigned to hardware perked up and said, “Hey now, no need to be snippy. We used more expensive components than what we use in satellites. The kid has a couple mil in hardware alone inside that skull. Do you have any idea how hard it is to split quantum computers up? Most of the compute fabric and fun parts are in this.”
He lifted what appeared to be a larger than ordinary briefcase with a ruggedized finish and a power cord hanging out of one side. Inside was a custom computer that used multiple quantum mechanics, making it the first of its kind. Its processor was an advanced quantum CPU, but the other even newer quantum technology was used for networking.
Instead of something as trivial as wireless networking, the team had managed to use quantum entanglement theory to split a portion of the computer, allowing for the massive amount of high-speed data transmission necessary to split off the remote hardware of the implant.
Given the job it needed to do, they couldn’t have something as simple as a microwave oven or wandering out of range interfering with the signals. It was an excellent opportunity to prove out the theoretical concept in a high-profile way. It also wouldn’t hurt if they could use it to sway the judges involved in the patent disputes around the tech.
“If this works, Apollo Technologies will make a stupid amount of money.” He paused, then added, “Well, I guess an even stupider amount anyway.”
“So, no tungsten, aluminum, magnesium, or platinum? They react weakly, but we’re talking about interfacing directly at a synapse level. Until he heals and the bonding is complete, any shift could rip all our connections outright and if it heats up, well…” the doctor left his egg in a skillet analogy unsaid, trying to get back to the point. He’d learned the Apollo guys were quick to deflect his questions in ways that didn’t answer them.
“Uh… I don’t think so?” the hardware guy replied with a shrug. “We specified non-magnetic in the specs we submitted to our fabrication team in China. We know it increased the hardware quote by 20 times. So yeah, should be good.”
The doctor’s eyes went wide as he made for the door, presumably to stop the procedure. The engineering team chuckled. The machine was already online, and images would be streaming to their monitors and light slates at any moment.
Today’s stream was expected to have the type of data that made careers, and they weren’t going to delay getting results. They were all far too invested both literally and figuratively. Being the first to get this type of technology to market stood to make them all unbelievably wealthy. It was the type of opportunity people killed for.
*** Two weeks later ***
“Alright, you can put your arms down and have a seat,” the physician said.
Alex remained in his awkward pose on the thick gel pad used to test his balance, standing on the ball of one foot while reaching straight up with both arms.
“Alex is going to sit down now,” his nurse corrected, giving the physician a sharp look. She’d gone over this with him several times already. Plainly worded requests or anything to do with the concept of self wouldn’t work. It had to be a direct command and usually in third person wording. She’d gotten rather good at figuring out how to fool his mind into avoiding the broken areas, but others seemed to be slow on the uptake.
Alex sat down in the provided chair, his eyes settling on the nurse across from him.
The physician glanced up to see if his guest had caught the reprimand, but the lawyer in the corner chair sat oblivious. The pudgy man was wearing a checkered brown suit with a gold tie and sat engrossed in the football game on his light slate, the audio casting to the earbud he wore.
The physician reached up and began removing the electrodes attached to Alex’s bare chest, legs, and scalp. He systematically detached each one, removed the residue with an alcohol wipe, tossed the electrode into a clear container, and then moved to the next one.
“Well, what’s the news, Doc?” the lawyer asked, no longer paying attention to his slate. He wanted to get on with this while the pre-season Seahawks game was on commercial break.
“Mr. Russo, Alex has a clean bill of health. There’s no sign of rejecting the implant. Also, the epigenetic expression therapy took hold on all markers, which is quite fortunate and frankly extraordinary. The other individuals in that study…” the doctor trailed off looking rather grim.
Rolling his eyes, the lawyer made a motion to move it along.
Continuing, the doctor skimmed his notes. “Physically he’s in peak condition, so no issues there. Reaction times are good. Strength tests are well above average, which is impressive considering he was in a coma. Cardio health is excellent. Balance is good. There are no outward indicators of mental stress or trauma from his accident. Cognition is good, barring his precise issue.
“According to the psychological results, his short-term memory works but is dependent on what’s being tested. Memories from before his injury are harder to say. In a few areas, he’s functioning normally, such as skill and language retention. For the bulk of the other parts, he’s got no recollections at all. Personality wise, there’s not much to test, unfortunately.
“Bottom line, he’s got very specific brain damage that keeps him from having a normal life. He’s clear for any physical activities once the implant bonding is complete, but a professional should continue to carefully monitor his mental state.”
“So, nothing is preventing us from proceeding?” the lawyer asked pointedly.
“No, I’ll sign. Although I find it odd that Alex’s family isn’t here. I know his parents were killed in the accident, but I assumed someone else would have stepped forward on his behalf. I didn’t see the usual ward of state paperwork, but I’m assuming it’s a bureaucratic logjam.” The physician shrugged. “Power of attorney is one thing, but it’s unusual not to consult family during medical care since these aren’t urgent or end-of-life decisions. I had to have the hospital’s legal counsel review the contracts and potential conflict of interest.”
The lawyer smirked. His firm had sent a few morally flexible problem solvers to do a bit of proactive outreach with the hospital’s counsel. With that and a single forged power of attorney document, they were set. It hadn’t taken much more than ensuring good PR and a throwaway-sized charitable contribution to their medical campus. His people had also been ready to offer donations of a more direct nature to sway them, but the hospital had accepted the first offer before it came to that.
Amateurs, the lawyer thought.
“So, we can get him checked out of the ward? Take him… home?” the lawyer asked, uncertain if the word was the right one to use. Alex’s original home was long gone. The lawyer had overseen the property sale himself.
The doctor nodded. “He’ll still need regular checkups going forward, but if he’s got round the clock supervision, I don’t see any threat to himself or others.”
The lawyer motioned towards the young redhead who served as Alex’s nurse and constant attendant and said with a grin, “Perfect, that’s what she’s here for.”
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Bio: Joe travels the world each week defending today's corporations and the mega-corporations of tomorrow from hackers. He's got over 20 years in the IT field, much of it centered around security and cutting edge technology. In his spare time he plays far too many video games and reads far too many pulpy books that either involve the world going to heck, stories with complicated love lives, or a bit of both at the same time.